Not that anyone cares
In what would probably be my sophomore year of high school, my friend Shaun wrote an article for the school newspaper about the absence of the Bud Bowl from the commercial lineup during that year’s Super Bowl. In the way that high schoolers eagerly pronounce their casual, yet knowledgable relationship with alcohol, I found this article hilarious. How cool was I that I recognized those cans on the television from that one party where there was beer that one time!
He wrote in an over-the-top, Microsoft Word thesaurus, “I was miffed and bamboozled” style, quoting mutual friends in quotes that were almost definitely fabricated or simply made up. Our school newspaper was not known for any sort of editorial genius: It came out twice a year at best, each issue severely dated and centered around the silly things we care about in high school: a singular sports team, prom tickets, Mrs. Smith’s can drive to help “needy families” at the holidays.
In short, I was on board.
I always enjoyed writing papers for class. I got to write funny articles, quote my friends, and have my name in print? I signed up immediately.
And I enjoyed these things. I found a way to write articles about my friends in an “athlete of the month” forum. I invented quotes. I used inside jokes that only my friends and I would understand. It was terrible journalism, but the narcissist that lies within me loved seeing my byline, loved hearing the compliment that someone liked my article. At this time, my dream was to host Monday Night Football. But I didn’t love being in front of the camera. Journalism was the answer.
Around this time, my friend made me a press pass on his computer. It was a press pass for a local sports site. I wasn’t part of their website, yet, for whatever reason, this press pass got me into most local games for free. I saved a whole $3 or something to get into a game in which I was openly cheering for one team. When I was a senior in high school, my cousin and I went to visit my grandparents in Fort Myers, Florida. During this trip, we went to the Red Sox Spring Training facility. I came armed with my press pass. Why not be part of the press corp? I literally had no idea what I was doing.
I jumped the rope into the press area and just kind of lingered around. I see the foolishness in this as I got older. I was 17. I must have stood out like a circus clown.
“Who are you with?” I was asked.
I told the nice gentleman with the cell phone firmly attached to his belt buckle who I was with.
He explained to me why I have to leave. He was nice about it. His name was Kevin.
When I was looking into colleges, I knew that journalism was what I wanted to study and it came down to two schools: Wingate University outside of Charlotte and Springfield College in western Massachusetts. Not exactly journalism powerhouses. That said, two good programs. When I went down to visit Wingate, I was disappointed by the focus on journalism and the emphasis on television; Despite the image of pretty southern blondes working on their non-regional dialects in all my classes, I left feeling that this wasn’t the place for me. In contrast, I went to Springfield where the focus was all on journalism. And, what’s more, all on sports. The professor with whom I spoke that day had written a book about one of my favorite teams of all time, the 1995-96 Massachusetts Minutemen. I was in.
During college, I oscillated between working hard and hardly working. Marty Dobrow was witness to all of this. There were times when I really took my journalism seriously; There were times when I mailed in an article in favor of beers in the back of our townhouse with my friends. And my professor Marty likely knew all this, and has told me that in college I seemed to be more interested in calling myself a writer than actually writing. I’m glad that opinion has changed.
I don’t regret all of this, but my network of journalism colleagues from college is remarkably small. The two with whom I keep the most contact are both working in major markets with high profile teams, but neither is writing.
I covered some cool shit when I was in school. I covered the Basketball Hall of Fame Induction. In 2003, I went to Fenway Park to cover a Red Sox game. As I waited in the empty ballpark for my companion to arrive and bring me to the press area, I was approached by a man with a cell phone firmly at his hip.
“Who are you,” he asked.
I brandished my press pass, legit this time. He was satisfied this time with my answer. His name was Kevin.
I told him the story of Fort Myers from years ago.
“That’s not the story I’d tell me at this point in your career,” he advised.
I laughed because I didn’t know whether he was joking.
I had a great internship alongside some really fine writers. Mike Moran and Matt Vautour showed me the ropes of covering local games well. There was a passion for the local high school teams that warranted close coverage. I enjoyed going to those games and I enjoyed going back to the sports desk to write them. The internship was paid, too, which was a bonus. After leaving work on Friday nights around midnight, I could also be back in time to meet the guys for a few beers or be a last minute addition to wherever the party was. That was important to me then.
Still, when tasked with a big article — a profile on the college president comes to mind; covering an Elite Eight women’s basketball team, too — journalism was something that I took seriously. That’s a piece I remember re-working a couple of times at least. It’s also a piece I remember because it was the one piece that really helped me discover an interview technique. Prior to that, I’d come in armed with questions and simply run down the list. Armed with a tape recorder, I remember coming with notes, but hoping to simply just engage our President in conversation and transcribe afterward. That strategy changed the way I interview to this day.
I left college with an inflated sense of accomplishment, at least journalistically. We all have things about our past that we’d change and it’s likely I’d involve myself a little more in that arena given the shot to do it all over again. Then again, being in college was a lot of fun. I can’t promise I wouldn’t opt for that game of beer pong. I like to believe these mistakes or miscues provide not a hiccup but simply a different path.
Post-college, I moved out to San Diego and immediately found work as a journalist at a weekly paper where I was tabbed as their sports editor. This was a difficult position to be in as a 22-year old. I had no management skills. I had little idea how to operate a sports department but I had an intern. I spent a good amount of time driving to high schools all around San Diego County. I went to a number of football games and wrote a few articles a week.
It didn’t work out. Through no fault of my own, I found out. They simply had no money to pay me. It was 2005. Print journalism was bleeding out in some global ICU.
From there, I did some freelance stories for literally $50 a pop for another local paper. Community events, youth sports announcements, etc. I literally brought a date to a fundraiser I was covering and we got drunk and ate sushi. All paid for by a local paper. Ah, to be stupid and 22 again.
When San Diego had run it’s course, I interviewed back in Massachusetts at a local paper. I thought the interview went great and drove back east. The job went to an internal hire. I found a job as a substitute teacher while I continued to write for a monthly sports paper, mostly profiles and features. Then the school wanted to hire me full time, so I left the journalism gig.
Over the course of the teaching career, I had a few journalism bugs bite. I wrote some op-eds for the same local paper that didn’t hire me; I wrote a few things about the craft beer scene for an alt-weekly out of Boston. The journalism bug never really left. It persisted. When teaching really came to a close, I chose to get back into the field that I’d chosen so long ago.
And this was dumb, I realize in retrospect and I’ve been wildly lucky to be where I am now which is still, essentially, nowhere. I had this idea that I’d reach out to journalism contacts that I still had and they’d be thrilled to help me. They’d be overwhelmed with my Michael Jordan-esque return to the game and throw jobs my way.
The best reality check I got was from a friend named Brian Shactman who’d been an adjunct at Springfield when I was there. We got on the phone and he said, “Okay, pitch me five ideas.” I didn’t have one idea when I called him, never mind five. In a very direct way, he told me I need to be better prepared. It was the best phone call I had.
So there I was. Few contacts. No ideas. Sitting in front of a blank computer screen.
It started with a personal essay reflection on the time I covered the Atlanta Braves at Spring Training, another great opportunity I got as an undergraduate. I reflected on baseball and youth; I wrote about despair of winter and the optimism baseball brings. I showed a friend named Alan Siegel.
He referred me to The Classical, a place for sportswriting that’s kind of outside the box. It was unpaid, but the editor, Dave Roth, was a great guy and would treat me kindly. The piece was accepted. And, as I drove to New York City early one morning, I got buzzed with text messages from friends saying the piece was great. It made me hopeful, seeing my name in a byline again.
I did more things with The Classical, all unpaid, all about sports. Alongside this, I reached out to an editor at a local magazine about doing some beer writing. They accepted this idea. If they were going to do some features on wine (they were making an attempt at high brow journalism), why not the growing craft beer industry? This moved into some local news writing.
One of the stories I did for The Classical prompted an e-mail from an Eric Nusbaum, who asked to include the story in a collection of baseball writing. Of course, I wrote. In his e-mail, his signature included that he was an editor at Vice Sports, to whom I had just written a pitch to their generic “sports@vice” or whatever e-mail. I mentioned this, and forward the pitch his way. Again, they accepted. And paid! Not much, but anything was great.
From there, it kept moving forward. I’ve written for Smithsonian, Vice Sports, The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated’s The Cauldron as well as many others. Freelance writing is a constant hustle. The waters keep rolling. You have to write every day. You have to pitch every day. This is hard. In the past three years, we’ve had two children. Children need attention. They need food. They need time. They’re expensive. It’s hard to balance these things with writing. There has been stress and struggle. There have been tears and anxiety. There have been impulsive e-mails to people like Marty or Alan or my wife about quitting. And maybe that still might happen. A steady paycheck sounds great. I can’t imagine how rich we’d feel.
When I think about my family during these few years, I can’t help but recognize and appreciate the sacrifices we’ve made for this … whatever it is. Pipe dream? Fantasy? Impossible, silly thing? Or maybe it’s what makes our lives interesting. For so many people, life happens to them, rather than the other way around. We always talk about making our lives more “fulfilled” and following our passions, but how many actually do it. And how many people have the support of their wives the way that I do to pursue these dreams? I don’t know where I’m going to end up. Hell, I don’t even know if I know where I want to end up. The destination isn’t the fun part, though, right? The journey is.